01 August 2017

Imbolc - Awakening the Spirit

First flowers of early Spring
Nothing is so beautiful as spring -
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look like low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes lightning to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
George Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

The earth is in the slow process of returning back to life after the long winter’s sleep with the first tendrils cautiously making their appearance.  There is the likelihood of frosts, but despite this, early flowers are pushing their way to the surface – snowdrops, dwarf hyacinths, jonquils, early irises and even daffodils are appearing, making the statement that spring is on its way.  A fragile warming of the air can be felt as winter, usually the season of rest and withdrawal, comes to an end.  This is the time of uncertainty.  A sudden frost can kill the new plants and flowers, if they appear too early.  They also run the risk of developing rot with the last of the winter rains.

The nights are still very cold, but the daytime temperatures are slowly beginning to increase into the 20°Cs.  As the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius slowly leave the Southern skies, they are replaced by Orion and its nebulae, as well as the bright Sirius.  The Southern Cross is lying on its side between three and four o’clock in the southwest and heading down to the southern horizon, with the Pointers (Alpha and Beta Centauri) above it. 

Pelicans at the Coorong
To the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray River and Coorong areas, the season from August to October is called Riwuri, the time of growth and mating, when birds, kangaroos, snakes, frogs and even grubs get together.  In the southwestern waters of Australia, the Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis) have arrived at their breeding grounds and from now until October, they can be seen from the shoreline.  Imbolc also marks the commencement of the breeding season for Australia’s unique egg-laying mammal, the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). This reclusive animal makes its home along the banks of small streams around the country.

Imbolc (also spelt “Imbolg”) is the first festival of spring, and is usually celebrated around 31 July or 1 August in the Southern Hemisphere, or when the sun moves 15 degrees into Leo, which occurs around 7 August this year.  It is Irish-Gaelic and translated to mean “in the belly” referring to the potential of all life that is in the belly of the Great Mother (Mother Earth), but also the pregnancy of other animals, particularly cattle and sheep, who give birth to their young around this time.  An alternative word for Imbolc is Oimelc, meaning “ewe’s milk”.  Although here in South Australia the lambs are often born around the autumn equinox to ensure that there is enough Winter grass for them to eat, in other parts of the country, and particularly in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, Imbolc heralds the birthing season for lambs.


Sources:
Bell, Diane, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A World that Is, Was and Will Be, Spinifex Press, 1999
Billinghurst, Frances, Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, TDM Publishing, 2014

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